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Writing the Shadow Work Book, Part Three: You Are Not Alone


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May 2008, by Alyce Barry
Part One
Part Two

As I begin this third essay about writing Practically Shameless, I'm happy to report that I've sold nearly all copies of the first printing and am beginning to plan for a second edition.

I say second edition rather than second printing because I plan to reformat the exercise in Chapter 19 so that it doesn't contain blank lines, which have apparently limited the book's appeal to libraries.

Friends in the publishing business warned me before the book went to print that no matter how thoroughly the manuscript was proofread by myself and others, the book would still contain small errors, and that proved true. I began correcting those errors last fall as I prepared to sell the book at Amazon.com. I wanted to make use of Amazon's "Search Inside This Book" (SITB) feature, which allows a reader to search for particular terms and names in the text. SITB involves uploading the book's text in PDF format, so I had some minor typos corrected before sending Amazon the PDF. I also fixed one more substantive error (detailed at the book's Errata page).

The good news is that using the SITB feature gave me an early head start on the task of making small corrections. The bad news is that the SITB feature for the book has never worked, and Amazon's technical support team can't tell me why or if they're ever going to fix it.

KEEPING THE FLOW

In addition to those changes, however, there are a few bigger decisions to make. One of them is whether to explain further some of the more cryptic passages. In Chapter 9, for example, when describing my experience at the Woman Within initiation, I wrote:

"As I lay resting, looking into the faces of the women surrounding me, I heard a female voice say, 'You are not alone.' The voice came not from anyone in the room but from somewhere inside me, yet it was as audible as if it had been spoken aloud."
To add or not to add—it's a question of flow.

In writing Practically Shameless, I wanted its story to flow in a way that would carry the reader from beginning to end without interruption. I worked very hard not to inject descriptions and theoretical concepts that might pop the reader out of the story. Many of the final revisions to the manuscript were specifically for the purpose of removing or smoothing descriptions that might interrupt the flow.

Flow was more difficult to achieve than I would ever have imagined, and for a very simple reason: my life had never been about flow. Flow was almost entirely a stranger to me. I had lived most of my life "in my head," and going into my head (and hence out of the flow) was so normal that it took a long time for me to see myself doing it as I read the manuscript.

Thus it happened that, at numerous points in the story, when I was tempted to explain something further, I generally erred on the side of omitting explanation for fear of interrupting the flow.

NO REASON TO DOUBT

"You are not alone" was just such a point in the story. There was more I wanted to say. In particular, I wanted to explain why I knew without any doubt that the words "You are not alone" had not been spoken by any of the women in the room.

Those of you who have read Practically Shameless know that at the moment I heard those words, I was an atheist. I had no reason to believe that I had heard words from a supernatural source.

So how did I know without doubt that the words had not been spoken in the room?

Because the voice didn't speak in English.

A LOVE OF OPERA

I attended Woman Within in February 1996. Six years earlier, my father had died. Among the pieces of music he had requested for his memorial service was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's performance of "The Pilgrim's Chorus" from the Overture to Richard Wagner's opera Tannhauser.

Following Dad's service, I became the owner of the copy of Tannhauser that had been used for the service, since none of my siblings wanted it, and I listened to it avidly until I knew and loved the whole opera.

This was the second time I had fallen in love with an opera. In 1976, while I was working in the theatre in Philadelphia, a coworker, Nick Cassizi, was playing clarinet for the Houston Grand Opera's bicentennial production of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Nick got me a complimentary ticket for a seat in the balcony's front row. I was transfixed; I had never heard anything like it. I somehow scraped together the money for a second ticket to the same production several nights later. When an LP of the production became available the following year, I bought it, and for more than 25 years, despite the march of progress to compact discs, I continued to own a turntable so that I could play it.

I became familiar with about ten operas and assorted other arias and listened to them only in my car when driving to and from work, as my husband at the time and my daughter didn't share my enjoyment. I often sang along and made up for my lack of vocal training by cranking up the volume, so that my husband called my reverberating car the Operamobile.

Among my favorite arias was "La Mamma Morta," featured in the 1993 film Philadelphia. The words tell the story of a woman who is visited by a divine being in the midst of her despair. The being tells her, "Tu non sei sola" — You are not alone.

READY TO HEAR

"Tu non sei sola." Those were the words I heard spoken in February 1996 as I lay resting, looking into the faces of the women surrounding me. The words were spoken, not sung, and in a voice I didn't recognize. As I wrote in Practically Shameless, the voice frightened me because I had no way to explain it. Not until about a year later was I ready to admit to myself that they had been spoken by a being who was divine.

I believe that the Divine speaks to us in whatever language we are able to hear, and that we hear it when we are ready to hear it. If the Divine had spoken to me in English as I lay resting, I could so easily have told myself that someone in the room had spoken. Only the extreme improbability of a woman in the room speaking in Italian allowed me to hear, after twenty years of atheism, the voice of the Divine trying so hard to reach me.

As I tell the story now, I realize I no longer need to risk interrupting the flow of the story in the second edition by interjecting this explanation of what happened to me that day. I've told the story here and can trust that whoever needs to read it will find it here.

 

See also Alyce's two earlier essays: Writing the Shadow Work Book, Part One: Storytelling, about how the book became a personal story; and Part Two: A Box, Not a Bag, about how Alyce chose a box as a metaphor for the shadow.

Alyce Barry is a Certified Shadow Work® Group Facilitator and Coach in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. She is the author of Practically Shameless, available in paperback and on audio CD. Read more about Alyce.

This article originally appeared in our free email newsletter in May 2008. To subscribe, visit our subscription page.

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